Kilmacurragh


HISTORY & PORTRAITS

Extract from Kilmacurragh Arboretum Project - Student: Myles Reid , Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, with thanks to Mr Reid. I have added one or two clarifications.

Family Crest Adjuvante Deo – With the help of God

Thomas Acton 1st. Died 1671
The Acton family can trace their linage back to Acton of Acton in 1232.
Adam de Acton is listed as Acton of Alderley in Cheshire before this date.
This is an area in Cheshire where copper and lead were mined since prehistoric times in England.

Thomas Acton came to Ireland with Cromwell’s army in 1640 and this army passed through Kilmacurragh on their way to Wexford.

Thomas was married to Alice Coventry.
They had one child a son - Thomas - of whom presently

The Hearth Roll of 1669 (This counted the number of fire hearths in a house on which tax was levied) states Thomas Acton’s leasing of Bog Hall, Ballygannonbeg & Kilcandra in 1669. This was land seized in 1641 by Oliver Cromwell and granted to Sir Richard Parsons of Birr Castle.

The O’Byrnes, who were dispossessed of Kilmacurragh, came into possession again shortly after this but the records of 1690 show that the Actons were living in Kilmacurragh.

The land was leased from the Parsons family (Thomas’s grandson William, married Jane Parsons, daughter of the landlord)

Thomas’s will is dated 1645 with an estate of £10.00 = €1,695 in today’s value (2006)

He was succeeded by his son Thomas.



Next. Thomas Acton 2nd (Born 1655 Died 2nd Jan 1750 aged 95 years) & his Wife Elinor Kempston (b 1667 – d 1747 aged 80 years)

Builder of Kilmacurragh House in 1697. This was one of the first houses built without fortress in Ireland. Its cost was put at £1,500 = €276,848 in today’s value (2006) The Deer Park walls were built for £142-6-1 (€26,265 at today’s values) in this period.

He also built the workhouse in Wicklow in 1715 to create work for the poor for ‘the encouragement of the Hempen and Flaxen Manufacture’.

Forbes ‘Tree Planting in Ireland’ tells of Thomas Acton inventing a Dibbling Tree Planter in 1730.

He received a premium of £10 (€1,827 today’s value) from the Royal Dublin Society in 1750 for the planting of foreign trees. The greatest number of these plantings was a general mixture of common hardwood trees with a nurse crop of conifer, alder or birch.

Married Elinor daughter of Nicholas Kempston of Dunmurray, Co Cavan. Had four children:-
  1. William , of whom presently
  2. Grace (married Thomas Ball of Seapark, Co.Wicklow),
  3. Elinor (married Rev. John Blachford)
  4. Alice (married her first cousin Henry Kempston)
Elinor Acton (3) was once reading to her children when Jonathan Swift walked into the room saying “Is that woman pretending to teach?” Elinor replied “Yes Sir, ‘tis a very foolish book lately published called ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.”

Deeds dated 13th Feb & 10th May 1716 states “leases for lives renewable forever” from Richard Viscount Rosse . Thomas & Elinor buried in Dunganstown COI family plot.

Succeeded by his son William Acton 1st

William Acton 1st (b. 1711 – d. 20th Oct 1779) - His wife: Jane Parsons (Jane was daughter of Sir William Parsons of Birr Castle. Married 4th March 1756)

William entered Trinity College in 14th Nov 1726. Keeper of the Writs of the courts of Common Pleas.

Sargent of the Coif, holding the ring apparent to that office.

They had five children:-
  1. William – died before maturity
  2. Thomas of whom presently
  3. Martha died unmarried
  4. Maria (married Thomas Walker of Tykillem, Co. Wexford – The Master of the Chancery)
  5. Jane died 1794 (Methodist friend of John Wesley active in the Methodist movement with the Tighes of Rosanna)
William is buried in Family Plot in Dunganstown.

Succeeded by his son - Thomas Acton 3rd (Born 1742 - Died 21st Nov 1817 age 75 years)

He was barrister-at-law in Dublin. Thomas changed the name of Kilmacurragh to West Aston, a name which was held for the estate till the mid 19th Century. He was High Sheriff for Co. Wicklow in the year 1781. Thomas married Sidney Davis in 1780. She died 27th May 1837 aged 80. He married Sidney, daughter of Joshua Davis, Dublin.

They had six children.
  1. William of whom presently
  2. Thomas – (Rev) of Dunganstown Glebe, (married in Sept 1818 Sidney daughter of Hampden Evans of Portrane, Co. Dublin) Great Grandfather of Peter Hampden Acton (2006)
  3. William 2nd – (JP & High Sheriff to Leitrim 1875) of Brookvale, Co Dublin. (married in 16th Jan 1852 Georgina daughter of James Lowry, Rockdale, Co. Tyrone)
  4. Margaret – (married 9th Dec 1851 Henry Lambert Bayly)
  5. Sidney Anne- died Oct 1864
  6. Anne Sophia – (married her cousin Capt. George Warburton Drought, (JP) Yorkshire Light Infantry, of Cargins, Co. Roscommon.)
Thomas & Sidney are both are buried in the family plot in Dunganstown

In letters to Rev. Robert Truell of Three-Mile-Water, dated 1807 to 1809 in the National Library, Thomas Acton states: ‘I propose selling of land to industrious and sober tenants’

Terence Byrne being sold 65 acres, 9 roods and 33 perches in Ballygannon at £1/16/00 an acre (€113.54 an acre today - €4,478 in total).

Whereas Henry Black who wanted to buy the widow Byrnes land paid £2/5/6 an acre (€143.02 an acre today)

Owen Byrne was sold 74 acres at £1/10/00 an acre (€94.62 today or total paid or €7,002 for 74 acres).

A few Byrnes again on the land after 160 years absence!

Succeeded by his son William Acton 2nd (1789 -1854) & his wife Caroline.

He was MP for Wicklow, Justice of the Peace, Lt Col of the Militia & High Sheriff of Co. Wicklow in 1820’s.

Married his first cousin Caroline Walker of Tykillen, Co Wexford on 16th June 1818. She was the daughter of the master of the Chancery - Thomas Walker. She had a terrific enthusiasm for the beauty of nature and the study of flowers and insects and other wildlife. A passion she passed onto her children.

They had three boys and four girls, three of the girls died before reaching maturity.
  1. Thomas of whom presently.
  2. William Molesworth Cole (Colonel 77th Reg.) married 7th August 1861 Elizabeth Frances daughter of Capt. Fredrick Adolphus Robinson.
  3. Charles Ball-Acton (Colonel 51st KOYLI) married Georgina Cecilia daughter of George Annesley, London)
  4. Maria – born 1819 – died 1835 age 16
  5. Sidney – born 1820 – died 1841 age 21
  6. Caroline – born 1822 – died 1834 age 12
  7. Janet - born 1824 – died unmarried 5th Nov 1905
He added two wings to Kilmacurragh House in 1848.

William was Succeeded by his eldest son:- Thomas Acton 4th 1826 – 1908

Thomas was well travelled and by 1864 he was stated to have toured the world. This seems to have given him an interest in collecting plants from all parts of the world.

He spent the rest of his life establishing an arboretum and gardens in Kilmacurragh with the assistance of his sister Janet.

He befriended David Moore and his son Sir Fredrick of the Botanic Gardens Glasnevin and arranged that Kilmacurragh be an area where the Royal Botanic Gardens could grow calcifuges plants that did not thrive in Glasnevin. There were Rhododendrons from Sikkim in the Himalayas that Joseph Hooker sent the seeds of to the Botanic Gardens, these passed onto Thomas where these Rhododendrons thrives and are said to be the best species in the British Isles of Hooker’s collections.

Thomas’s rule of thumb for planting was to plant three of every shrub: He was appointed High Sheriff for Co. Wicklow in 1857.

Estate Size

In 1838 the Acton Estate covered 5,381 acres

In 1876 this was registered as 4,845 acres.

Population

In 1839 Thomas was Chairman of the Rathdrum Poor Law Board of Guardians who set up the workhouse in Rathdrum. At that time there was a large reduction in population due to the famine.

In 1841 the population for the Rathdrum area census showed 56,709 people registered.

In 1861 the Rathdrum area census this was recorded as 43,402 people (A 13,300 population reduction in 20 years in a small area)

A lot of theft carried out at this time and many valuable heirlooms were taken from the house (source - e-mail from Peter Acton)

Thomas was very generous in his donations of plants to the Botanic Gardens as the Plant Records books show. His Will also showed a lot of generous bequests to his family and staff.

He asked to be buried in ‘the turnip field’ on the grounds under the Pinus ponderosa. This tree and the fence around his grave are gone so it is with guesswork that the location of the grave is now arrived at.

Thomas never married and when he died the estate passed to his brother Charles' son also called Charles Acton.

Succeeded by Thomas’s brother’s Son - Colonel Charles Annesley Ball Acton (14th February 1876 – 25th September1915)

Charles Annesley Ball Acton was Thomas’s nephew – His father changed his name by deed poll in 1875 to add Ball.

The elder Charles had married Georgina Annesley in 1869.

Thus the connection with the Annesleys – Castlewellen Arboretum established by the Annesleys. The Annesley family also owned Annes’Grove house and gardens in Castletownroche in Co. Cork).

The younger Charles was born in Peshwar in India in 1876. He served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in Malta, Burma, Crete, Hong Kong and India. He was sent in 1900 to suppress the Boxer uprising in China and was promoted to Captain for his contribution to the China Expedition.

He resigned his commission when he succeeded to Kilmacurragh in 1908.

Charles was Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff in 1913 – He applied for his position in the army on the outbreak of World War 1 and fought with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers ‘D’ Company 9th Battalion. He was killed in action on 25th Sept 1915 at Loos. It is ironic that the German position he was trying to take was called “Lone Pine”

SUCCEEDED BY THOMAS’S SECOND BROTHER - MAJOR REGINALD THOMAS BALL ACTON ( 2nd Oct 1877 - 22nd May 1916)

Title then handed over to Charles’s brother - Reginald Thomas Acton (Father of the music critic Charles Acton)

Major Reginald Acton of The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was a veteran of the Boer War. He was killed in action on May 22nd 1916 in World War 1 at Ypres.

His wife (Isabel Richmond – Remarried a Hugh La Touche) tried to manage the estate. There were three sets of death duties to be settled on the estate. These were each a 40% tax on the estate on value over £1,500. The three sets of duties in 8 years had to be settled causing a great strain on the family finance. Isabel leased the land and the house for use as a Hotel in 1920’s. She died in 1933 and her son Charles Acton became owner of the estate.

Charles Acton

Succeeded by Charles Acton (25th April 1914 – 2nd April 1999)

Charles Acton Charles was born in Bristol and educated in Rugby and Cambridge. He went to work as a booking clerk at Thomas Cook’s travel agents initially working for their office in Holborn. In 1937 he went to Palestine for Thomas Cook and later ran a small library there. He returned to Ireland in 1939 and worked at various things including selling Encyclopaedia Britannica; he manufactured charcoal as motor fuel during the war and then became involved in selling Proctor’s Tripod Harvesting which was the Austrian way of preparing hay. Another unsuccessful venture was Market Gardening. He helped Herr Budina in running Kilmacurragh Hotel during the war years.

He was Governor of the Royal Academy of Music, Lecturer in Music, broadcaster. Co- Founded the Dublin Orchestral Players with Havelock Nelson and Constance Hardinge. He played the bassoon. He became the Music Critic for The Irish Times in 1955.

Married Carol in 1951, daughter of Francis Little from Fermanagh who was a violinist leader of the Dublin Orchestral Players.

He sold Kilmacurragh in 1944 for £15,000 (€543,312.62 in today’s currency). Records of the sale became subject to court case between the buyer Mr. D O’Connor from Howth and previous leaser Charles Budina.

Succeeded by Peter Hampden Acton (23rd March 1952 – Present)

Charles had no children so the title of head of the Acton family fell to Peter Hampden Acton. His great grandfather, the Rev Thomas Acton of Dunganstown (1790’s -1846) was a brother of William Acton 2nd of Kilmacurragh (1789-1854). Thomas’s son Hampden (1822-1894) settled in Pau in France. Their son Fitzmaurice (1873-1920) was Naval Attache at Paris and Tokyo. His only son Hampden Anthony (b 1913) was the current Peter Hampden Acton’s father. Peter has been a great assistance to this project in supplying pictures, maps, family records etc., Peter lives in Victoria, Australia.

The House & Estate -1915 to 2006

1915 – 1932

Thomas Taylor and family After Reginald Acton’s death, his wife Isabel leased out the property to a Mrs Phillimore who expressed an interest in buying the property and presenting this to the state. The gardens were being looked after by one old man at this stage. He would write to Lady Moore in 1929, wife of Fredrick Moore of the Botanic Gardens Glasnevin when a Rhododendron blooms –
“Let yez come soon, rosydandry falconyera or lowther (Loderi) is an admiration”
This was obeyed and proved true! The gardens at this stage started to decline as the area could not be well maintained by only one person.

In April 1932 a Mr. O’Connell and a Mr. Besant, Keeper of the Botanic Gardens Glasnevin inspected the grounds and said that the state could not take pride in the grounds in their present state and compulsory purchase ruled out.

1933-1950s

Nazi swastika The House was converted, on lease from Acton’s, to a Hotel from 1933

The new leasor, Charles Budina, was a prominent member of the German Community in Ireland and the Nazi Party, which were active in Ireland in the 1930’s, held some of their party functions in Kilmacurragh. Such as Nazi Youth camp in 1939 and a party for the sailors of the Schleswig Holstein when it landed in Dublin.

The hotel was very popular and well used by parties from Dublin. It had the first outdoor swimming pool built in Ireland at the time on the grounds. The wife of one of Charles Budina’s brothers was drowned in the swimming pool!

There was also a dance hall constructed beside the house; no trace of this now exists.
[I here insert an extract from the www.wicklow.ie website, which gives extra details of Kilmacurragh as a hotel - D.P.
After the deaths of the brothers Charles Annesley Acton and Reginald Acton, in World War One, the house fell into disrepair. The house lay vacant until it was rented to a German called Charles Budina, who ran the place as a hotel and had a ballroom built in the garden behind the house. This proved to be a very successful venture and for twenty years "Kilmacurra Park Hotel" offered all amenities with the finest continental cuisine at such a reasonable terms as: All food stuff was grown (and manufactured) on the estate."The manufacturing of meat", a brochure for the hotel, boasted "into 100 different table delicacies was carried out for the first time in Ireland at Kilmacurra Park Hotel". During the war years the hotel guests arrived at Glenealy Railway Station and were collected from there in a pony and trap by Michael O'Connor. Because it had such a healthy environment doctors frequently recommended a stay at Kilmacurra, as a tonic, to their patients. Indeed many prominent men in the Dublin medical profession were frequent visitors. A brochure promoting the hotel invited visitors to "bring your children, leave them at Kilmacurra Park Hotel for their annual holidays; they would be safely looked after, and will enjoy a perfectly healthy holiday amidst natural surroundings, and will be fed on the fat of the land, the purest and most wholesome food".

For over twenty years, Kilmacurra Park Hotel was one of the best known hotels in the country,and many of the local grannies and grandads have some wonderful memories of the good old days when romance first begun to blossom for them to strains of the music of "The Shamrocks Céilí Band" from Arklow or the "Cill Mhantain Round Tower". However at the start of World War Two Charles Budina went back to his native Germany. On his return to Kilmacurra in 1950 a dispute arose about the ownership of the hotel and shortly afterwards it closed down. For a short period, in 1956 it opened as an Irish Summer School.

by Eileen Byrne, typos corrected. Note the alternative spelling of Kilmacurragh.]

“In one of Eamon De Valera's cannier wartime moves, he persuaded the British to grant 50 Germans safe passage through what was technically enemy territory. They gathered at the mailboat at Dun Laoghaire on September 11, 1939 amid Nazi salutes and shouts of "Auf Wiedersehen" Charles Budina was among this group.”
David O'Donoghue,* Sunday Business Post 29 April  2001

A Mr. Diarmuid O’Connor, solicitor from Howth was appointed caretaker of the hotel in Mr. Budina’s absent during the war years. He was given power of attorney by Charles Budina as he left for the war.

The estate was sold for £15,000 by Charles Acton to the solicitor, Mr. Diarmuid O’Connor 1944. This is about €543,312.00 in 2006 value.

A dispute then arose over the ownership of the estate after the return of Charles Budina, from prison of war camp in Russia in the 1948.

The house let out to various religious groups for annual holidays during this period. It was also used as an Irish College for a period in the 1950’s.

The grounds were let go during this period also as no one employed to tend to them.

1950’s -1974

The estate was left idle up to 1974 as a result of the legal ownership not sorted out.

The Land Commission took over Kilmacurragh land from Diarmuid O’Connor for lack of tax payment in 1974.

Land given by the Land Commission in three sections to the Forest & Wildlife Service (FWS).
  1. Arboretum Area with walled gardens in 1975 (52 Acres)
  2. Pool Area/Oak Avenue and part of the Deer Park in 1981 (15 Acres)
  3. The rest of the Deer Park in 1983 (35.7 Acres).
The FWS Genetics Section was located at Shelton Abbey and the Nitrogen Factory near Arklow caused air pollution to area. Kilmacurragh suited this section’s research so operation transferred and now called Coillte Tree Improvement Research Station.

The steel frame of the old dancehall in Kilmacurragh used as the frame for construction of the offices.

40 to 50 years of neglect needed to be cleared up in the arboretum area and the amount of laurel trees removed were weighed in tons and sold. Some 10 staff employed at this time.

Many of the old paths were unearthed.

Some new plantings also carried out of specimen trees.

Eric Joyce of the FWS and his staff undertook the recording and cataloguing of the area by using a grid system and the specimen trees identified and labelled.

A booklet was then produced on the Arboretum at this time.

The grounds of the estate were being planted with conifers by Coillte during this period and some undergrowth being removed, Bush Laurel & Rhododendron ponticum especially. The cleared areas then became infested with brambles

1977 -1980

In 1977 a Mr. T.McKeown was granted caretaker lease of the house in order that he undertook to repair this. The roof went on fire on three different occasions in 1978. In 1980 Mr. McKeown withdrew from the lease.

1980 -1983

The Georgian Society had expressed an interest in restoring the house. Parts of the chimney blocks, slates, wall paneling and fireplaces went missing from the house during this period so the lease terminated in 1983.

1992-1996

Coillte logo The house and part of arboretum area sold to a Wicklowman, Bill Dolan, for use as Hotel in 1992 for £180,000 by the FWS now called Coillte. There were several public protests at this sale and the hotel planning not carried out. Records of the speakers at the protests on a cassette tape held in the Library in the RDS.

1996 – Present

Botanic Gardens logo In 1996 the House and the Arboretum purchased from Bill Dolan for £240,000 by the OPW and given to the Botanic Gardens to manage and develop in 1997. A lot of clearance and re-planting has being happening since this date and slowly the grounds are being restored to their former glory. The house was secured and made safe, fencing put around the house for safety reasons but the house slowly deteriorating.